“How can you stand there with a broken heart ashamed of playing the fool?”
James Taylor, Shower the People
“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.”
Kahlil Gibran, on Love
Twenty years of “talking about it” and the piercing heartbreak of my betrothal’s betrayal has not dislodged. It has, however, taught us both about the nature of love–again and again.
Most recently we’ve learned that “all is fair game” in relationship–particularly hurt, whenever it comes up–even twenty years later–for there is no Statute of Limitation on needing to process pain. This revelation by a pair of marriage therapists is dismaying to my husband–but relieving to me–and ultimately a fulcrum of release for us both.
It was twenty years ago on the Eve of our Nuptials that my best friend became my betrayer, in an act, so cliche, that it grieved me even more for playing the fool. This act arrived amidst other anguish amplifying its aim at my heart.
For my mother picked the month of May 1990 to finally hit bottom in her years as an alcoholic. Though her drinking had long been covert, during the weeks preceding my wedding, she took openly to the bottle, drinking day in and day out, without eating a single thing–in a last act of protest against a second marriage, and a life, gone bad.
A week before the wedding, my Matron of Honor attempted to pull together an “intervention,” but I declined–in my own landmark expression of self-care. Still, to her credit, my sister wanted to do anything to insure that my mother would make it to my wedding, especially since she missed my graduation–but I was only glad that she was alive and hoped that she would pull herself together so that others wouldn’t have to feel sorry for me.
On the early morning of my “special” day, I stopped by my mother’s house after having my hair done, and found her sitting there in the sun on her front porch in a puddle of blood. She didn’t realize that she had her period. Her hair was matted, and I wished I had thought to take her with me to the salon that morning.
I returned to my hotel room in my veil and did yoga in my underwear before the bridal party arrived. Despite my lack of sleep and mounting stress, I was surprisingly sparkling with beauty. I had been meditating all month, but I now know that angels were working double time on my behalf.
As my suite filled with bridesmaids and mimosas, the long-awaited flowers arrived–and they were all wrong! I spent months deliberating over the kind and color of blossom and had finally settled on pale roses in full bloom for me and simple bouquets of baby’s breath enveloped in white tulle for the wedding party.
What was delivered in a long white cardboard box to my honeymoon suite and placed on my nuptial bed was something quite different: dark green ferns choked the baby’s breath and the roses were tight-budded PASTELS!
Just as they arrived, a call came into the room. It was the photographer. His car had broken down on the highway and he wouldn’t make it to us in time for the photos, but he “hoped” to be at the wedding. With the receiver in hand, I looked down at my sherbet-colored bouquet and wanted to vomit.
My dear friend and bridesmaid, Lou Ann, kindly offered to run up to the street mall to get some different flowers–even offering to pick wild ones–but there wasn’t time. My father stepped in as photographer and lined the wedding party (almost a dozen females) up the stairs of this Victorian Inn for some amateur shots that I treasure to this day.
His necessary involvement was an act of healing for me as it was the first time that he truly engaged in the celebration of my wedding–beyond funding it. Up until this morning, he had even hedged about accompanying me in the limo from the inn to the church–because it left out my new stepmother.
With the flowers all wrong, the missing photographer, the drunken mother, and the betraying betrothed one, there was a large opening created for my reluctant father. Our 30 minute drive from Cape May to Wildwood Crest was a unparalleled gift–even if he did insist on smoking with ashes threatening my satin gown.
By some act of God, my mother met us in the vestibule of the church and there my father brought me to tears by having photos taken of just the three of us together; no matter that those pictures never appeared along with the others when my stepmother handed over the developed rolls.
Though she had to be “escorted” down the aisle by a groomsmen on each side, the Mother of the Bride took her rightful place in the first pews. We were both wearing the same laced fabric bridal shoes. Her’s in cream; mine in white. Though her simply embroidered dress (that we had chosen together) hung on an emaciated form, she had not a single drink that day.
As my father walked me down the aisle, his hand gripped mine so tightly that it hurt. He held it close to his chest which made for an awkward gait given our height differential: he’s 6 foot 4, and I’m 5 foot 2. As he lifted my veil for our parting kiss, my eyes caught those of my groom–and cringed.
Casey took my hands in his with a look of happiness and shame. His face was pasty white, his lips parched, and his eyes circled with broken blood vessels.
It was three o’clock that morning when he woke me–drunk–professing his love and excitement. I had trouble falling back to sleep after that call, but my old college roommate knew how too soothe me into getting some rest before the sun came up.
It was just after 6 when I called him back and received his high school buddy on the line. “Oh, I don’t think he can come to phone now,” Jimmy laughed into the receiver. “He’s still on the toilet. It’s coming out both ends!”
Time stopped for me as I fell into a black hole of loss. First my father, then my mother, now my husband to be. This wedding had been his idea. He wanted the pageantry, the ceremony, the commitment. I was happy to continue living together or to simply elope. It was he who had thrust me into this cliche role of expectant bride in white opposite a bachelor bad boy. I had never seen it coming.
Our rehearsal dinner had been at our all time favorite bistro on a little side street where we’d sneak away in the early weeks of our courtship. My mother-in-law made sure they served my favorite dessert: Lemon Sin. Birthday cake was also in order as the night marked my nephew’s 4th and my brother’s 6th. Out of town guests were invited and we all crowded in for a casual, but exquisite affair.
Most comical was my mother–who arrived very drunk–and proceeded to my father’s table where she rubbed his balding head in a fond hello that they hadn’t shared since their divorce a handful of years earlier.
The hero of the night–and of the entire wedding planning process in fact–continued to be my mother-in-law. She whisked my drunken mother away to “meet other guests” much to my stepmother’s relief.
I can’t remember anything else from that dinner, not even the rehearsal itself–except that I had neglected to choose something special to wear for the occasion. It was my cousin who tipped me to this oversight and I quickly searched my teacher’s wardrobe for something to celebrate the bride on the eve her wedding. A ankle-length khaki skirt and cream knit sweater made due at this last minute with hair hurriedly pulled back into a pony tail.
After the dinner, my husband’s family gathered for drinks at the hotel where out of town guests were staying. I popped in for a bit before leaving to join my bridesmaids at the Inn in Cape May. “Do you mind if I go out with friends for an hour or so?” my fiance asked respectfully. We had both forgone the tradition of a bachelor/ette party–having sewn our wild oats long before meeting.
I replied yes to his request without another thought. Neither of us had any idea that the deeply considerate Casey could be capable of sabotaging our wedding day–or any day–with a drink that turned into “drinks” and then “shots” and then hours of vomiting.
I wanted to cancel my wedding, but I didn’t know how. I was too practical to stop something so significant set into motion with the freight of a wedding’s weight. Instead, I married a man that I despised that day–one who stood before me with sorry eyes.
The hip Reverend Rowe, who officiated our wedding, had issued one threat at the rehearsal the afternoon before: “If anyone arrives with alcohol on his breath, the wedding is canceled.”
I thought it a funny thing to say at the time, but the next morning, I half-hoped Charlie Rowe would take a sniff of the groom and call it off. I guess it was we who called his bluff.
But there were angels. Angels abounded indeed. For despite all the heartbreak on my wedding day, I glided through the day with grace. One such angel stood beside me with golden curls–my littlest sister April, age 4, the flower girl, whose mothering had recently been left to me.
She’s 24 now and living nearby, having joined me in Vermont a few years back. I’m not so capable of comforting her as I once was; I can’t take her on my lap or hold her hand as easily–but I like knowing she is there, just the same. There was so much pain on my wedding day, and it wasn’t just mine.
I write this post from my bed on the morning of my twentieth anniversary–where my husband I feed each other rich chocolate cake after a night of wining and dining.
Casey bites at his nails as I share each draft. He’s done an hour of yoga, taken a shower, and headed to the post office–while I continue to type. He hands me a card from my stepmother who always remembers our anniversary.
While writing seems a silly way to spend the morning, there are angels guiding my hands. Because it is time. It is time to release the pool of heartache that has gathered in my chest around this day and this life of mine. It is time to shift my attention to all the ways that I’ve been “held” in the heartache.
Just this morning, a new view of my husband’s act comes into focus. Like Judas, he filled a sacrificial role in our epic of love–which brings me back to the sermon that my minister uncle offered at our ceremony.
While Uncle Jeff did not officiate the wedding, I did ask him to speak–and I was surprised at what he chose to day. For this most romantic of days, he delivered a sermon of forgiveness. He spoke of the dismal times of marriage when one spouse fails the other.
I did not want this foreboding talk to be applicable to my spouse on the first day of my marriage–or any day for that matter. But what I didn’t know then, was that I would need this sermon of love and forgiveness–for myself.
For better or for worse, Casey and I have grown up within this heartache of a wedding day–in the revisiting of it–year after year. He’s learned a lot about himself in the process. He’s learned how to stay present in the shame of his own betrayal–and he’s learned to forgive himself–even in the face of my grief.
It’s been I who’s held onto the guilt. For twenty years, I’ve despised myself for continuing to feel the pain of that day–and for not being enough to change the course of events–not just with Casey, but with my family of origin, with my parents, my mother, and my siblings.
“I suck,” is the sob that rises from my heart after yet another sister thanks me for the years of mothering her. It is in this moment of finally accepting my overwhelming inadequacy, that the pool of pain around my heart begins to trickle out.
“Think about who Jesus Christ loves,” said my fundamentalist uncle at my wedding. “He loves those who have missed the mark, those who are imperfect, those who have disappointed. And in his love, what did he become? He became repulsive on the Cross. He took the place of people who are not attractive to God–and He demonstrated His love that way.”
I realize now that Casey demonstrated his love for me in much the same way. He stood there at the altar of love, steeped in shame, and spoke his vows with earnest claim. My own voice was softer, much less convicted–stumbling upon the words of “faith.”
“Love each other as Jesus loves you,” said my uncle. But I’ve found that it is ourselves–in our acts of disappointment–who we first need to love. And in that surrender to failure, all the difference is made.
At the hour of our betrothal, twenty years forward, Casey crawls back into bed beside me and my computer, serving a fine Black Cherry Micro-Brew in the crystal from our wedding day.
With a lightened heart, we watch our the wedding video together with fresh eyes–of love, forgiveness–and recognition.